ECE Diamonds

Jessie Donald - a fighting spirit 

Inaugural life member 1968

A champion during a time of considerable opposition to the idea of childcare, Jessie Donald initially intended to ‘bomb’ the first meeting of the new Association (now Te Rito Maioha) on 14 October 1963. 

Determined, intelligent and a staunch fighter for what she believed in, Jessie turned up to the inaugural meeting representing the Lower Hutt Civic Day Nursery Trust Board who felt the new organisation would be superfluous. 

Instead she came away as the first vice President, convinced that the best interests of children did indeed require united action to gain government recognition, funding and standards to support quality early childhood centres. 

Over the next six years, Jessie teamed up with Sonja Davies and focused her efforts on establishing the first childcare training scheme. The task was complex. There was no government will to fund the Association, or to establish childcare training in a tertiary institution. Jessie guided the development of a syllabus, did the rounds of government departments – Child Welfare, Education, Health. The proposal was sent back and forth to the Royal Society of Health in London, lost and found. 

Jessie was a tenacious champion. Finally, the London Royal Society of Health agreed to consider the training scheme, and in 1968 gave permission for the Association to offer the Royal Society of Health Child Care Certificate as an in-service course for childcare workers.  

Jessie Donald was made the first Life Member of the Association in recognition of the work she had done to realise this goal. The Golden Kiwi Lottery also gave $200 to the Association! The administration of the qualification was to be managed by the Association, with the help of the Department of Health. The exam was to be marked in London. This arrangement continued until the Association established its own Certificate in Childcare in 1978. Volunteer tutors from the Association provided the supervision of trainees… 

Jessie died in 2006. Her obituary in The Hutt News, 14 February 2006, was headlined ‘Diminutive woman made a big impact’: 

Jessie Donald was diminutive in form, but her boundless energy made a big impression on Lower Hutt in her 21 years as a city councillor. A hard-working champion of the underdog and staunch fighter for what she believed in… She experienced the heat of the debate, hard decisions and public criticism along the way…

Te Rito Maioha was indeed a beneficiary of Jessie’s feistiness and fighting spirit during the times of considerable opposition to the idea of childcare.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read Jessie's full story and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa